People are embracing travel sabbaticals, and for good reason. Taking a travel break, or ‘adult gap year’, can bring incredible benefits to your life and career. Whether it’s to learn something new, reflect on your life goals or simply to see the places you’ve always wanted, travel career breaks are transformational. We know, because we did it ourselves! In this complete guide, we walk you through every step of taking a travel career break, from the moment you make the decision until you return home afterwards.
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In this article:
1. What is a travel career break / sabbatical?
Career breaks are often described using many different terms – sabbatical, career gap, adult gap year, mini-retirement, and so on. Each has a slightly different meaning, but the essence is the same; an extended period of time off work to travel or pursue other interests.
The term career break is a general catch-all that can refer to any gap in employment – it could be anything from a few weeks to study, up to several years to raise children. Some people use the time to volunteer, retrain, or even try a different job. In this blog, we focus on how to take a travel career break and maximise the benefits of it.
A sabbatical is an agreement with your workplace to have a specific period of time off work, during which your job will be held open for when you return. Sabbatical contracts range from just a few weeks up to a year, or sometimes even longer. The leave is typically unpaid, although there is a small but growing number of companies that offer paid sabbaticals.
The term mini-retirement was coined in Tim Ferriss’ best-selling book The 4-Hour Work Week to describe time out of work to pursue your greatest non-vocational ambitions while still in the peak years of your physical health. The book helped to inspire the career break movement, and even though it was published over a decade ago it’s still well worth a read for motivation.
Travel career breaks are growing in popularity. There was a time when round-the-world backpacking trips were mainly seen as something for young students on a gap year, but it is now an increasingly common thing for people of all ages to do.
A changing approach to careers
One-track careers are no longer the norm. People change jobs far more frequently in today’s world, and it’s not unusual for someone to switch to an entirely different career path. The days of spending an entire career on a single trajectory are disappearing.
This fluid approach to careers brings more flexibility and the space to take time out and reflect. A travel career break is an opportunity to do this – to take a step back, learn and develop – all while exploring the cultures and sights of this beautiful world we live in.
Employers are increasingly open to sabbaticals
As the career break movement grows, it’s becoming easier than ever to take time off work to travel. Smart organisations are recognising that allowing employees to take travel sabbaticals can bring many benefits to business. This has been backed up by research, and as a result there are more companies offering sabbatical policies.
Award-winning companies are leading the way. UK-based Hallam Agency is one of the top digital agencies in Europe, and has successfully implemented a sabbatical policy as part of its employee wellbeing programme. Adobe, Deloitte, McDonald’s and Penguin Random House are among the multinational companies that offer sabbaticals.
And while a growing number of businesses are doing this, many more are open to informal sabbatical arrangements without having a specific policy. Lisa agreed one with her workplace in these circumstances, and later in this guide we take a look at how you can approach it with your own employer.
2. Why take a travel career break or sabbatical?
People take travel career breaks for a variety of reasons, and at many different stages of life. Everyone has different circumstances, and there is no single approach that fits for all.
When Lisa and I first decided on taking a career break, it was simply because we wanted time to travel and explore the world in depth. However, the more we planned, the more we realised that there were many other ways we could benefit from the experience.
Here are some of the possible reasons for taking a travel career break – or it could be a combination of them:
See the world while you can
If you have always dreamed of travelling, taking a career break gives a wonderful opportunity to see places that would be very difficult to visit on a short-term vacation.
We only have limited time on this planet, and there’s so much of it to see. And you never know when circumstances might catch up with you. Age itself is not a restriction to travel, but we can’t predict what’s around the corner. Anything could happen that might make it difficult to travel later.
So, if you dream of seeing the world, don’t put it off – a travel career break is the perfect way to do it.
Reflect on your life goals
The routine of regular working life can create tunnel vision. It’s easy to get stuck in the grind and only see things from the inside. Who knows what possibilities you might be missing out on?
Taking a step back on a travel career break gives you a different perspective. Removed from the routine, you can reflect on your life from outside of this tunnel and consider whether it’s really making you happy. Maybe a few changes to your attitude or lifestyle would make a huge difference – or maybe a completely new path could transform your life.
This reflection space can help you figure out what is really important to you, and make adjustments accordingly. And this isn’t just the case if you are feeling stressed and unhappy. You might be perfectly content with your life and career, but still find that a fresh perspective brings vast improvements.
Lisa and I were both doing jobs we loved before we took a travel career break – we weren’t ‘escaping’ or running away from anything. But we came back home refreshed with new experiences and ideas, and our lives are now much better as a result.
Learn new things and develop yourself
The regular nine-to-five routine not only limits your perspective, but it can also restrict your ability to learn and grow. A travel sabbatical or career break can bring opportunities to develop in ways that are not possible at home.
In our article on how travel will make you better at your job we explore examples of the qualities you can develop. Travel can vastly improve your confidence, creativity, communication skills, resilience, and much more – all equipping you fantastically for the future.
You could also use the time to learn a specific new skill or take a qualification. There are multiple options out there for remote learning. You could use a service like Skillshare or FutureLearn to learn a new skill while travelling, or take a free Massive Open Online Course.
Learning a skill while on a travel sabbatical could give you new capabilities to take back into your existing career, or open up new doors entirely. In the meantime, you have the space to reflect on your career and how you might like to shape it in future.
Take the example of Michaela Kascak, who is featured in one of our career break interviews. When her career as a pre-school teacher left her stressed and overworked, she took a travel career break and retrained as a culinary nutrition expert. This move has enabled her to take a completely different career direction and start her own business.
You just want a break
While a travel sabbatical often brings the best results if you go into it with a specific purpose, it can also be highly rewarding as a relief from life’s stresses. Maybe you are suffering burnout in your work, or struggling to keep a balance in life. A travel career break can give you the break you need.
Travel not only removes you from the situation that is causing you stress, but it also puts you into a range of environments that are completely different to what you are experiencing at home. And you have the freedom to take it at whatever pace works for you, giving you room to breathe.
Our interview with a higher education professional who overcame burnout on a travel career break is a powerful example of how effective this can be.
3. How a travel sabbatical can benefit your career
We’ve already discussed above how travel can enable you to learn new skills and self-develop. But the benefits to your future career don’t stop there. We explore this in detail in our article on the career benefits of travel.
One of the reasons people often give for not taking a travel sabbatical is that it could be damaging to their career. What if you miss out on that promotion, or you’re forgotten about while you’re away? What if you quit your job and can’t find one when you get back?
Yes, there are some medium-term risks associated with taking extended time off. But these are far outweighed by the long-term benefits. Don’t fear the damage; embrace the opportunity.
We had a bump just before we arrived home from our travel career break – Lisa found out that she would be losing a job after her organisation had its funding cut. However, she was soon able to find an even better position, and has continued to progress. It’s a story we hear often.
Travel can equip you to be far more effective in the work you currently do, or it could help you to find a new passion that becomes a profession. You can hone a swathe of practical skills like planning ahead, managing a budget and dealing with crises. In an increasingly crowded job market, travel experience can give you the edge you need to stand out in a pool of similar candidates.
Our series of interviews with inspiring people who have taken travel career breaks highlights several examples of how people have thrived as a result.
Maximising professional development on a travel career break
Deciding to take a travel career break is the first step; giving it a focus and setting some goals will ensure you get the most out of it from a career perspective.
Of course, you might just want to focus entirely on enjoying your travels, and that’s great – you will get many additional benefits at the same time. However, it’s worth at least considering how you can also use the time to enhance your career prospects.
This doesn’t necessarily involve a lot of work, nor does it need to detract from your travel experiences. Our guide to how to maximise your professional development on a travel career break details how you can identify development needs, set some goals, utilise your travel experiences effectively and record your progress.
Career preparations before you set off
There are several actions you can take before setting off on a travel career break to make sure you’re in the best possible position when you return. Setting goals for your professional development is just one aspect of this.
Whether or not you have a sabbatical contract, it’s a good idea to make basic preparations for a job search when you return. Your travels may lead you to seek new career opportunities, or there’s a small chance a job search may be forced upon you (as it was for Lisa).
Before you set off on your travels, make sure your resume/CV is updated at the very least, as well as any professional networking profiles such as LinkedIn. It’s also useful to gather a portfolio of your best work, write down your achievements and make any general notes that could help with job applications later. If you have any professional examples or useful documents on a work server, make copies for yourself and upload them to cloud storage. This will give you access if you need it.
Our winning strategy for finding a job after travelling covers this in a lot more depth, as well as what you can do while you’re away and when you return. Throughout all of this, however, don’t put too much pressure on yourself. It’s supposed to be a break, an experience, and a chance to reflect. Remember this first and foremost, and you will reap the benefits.
4. Overcoming the barriers: what else is holding you back?
Job stability concerns are just one of many obstacles that can prevent people from taking a travel career break. If you look hard enough, there will always be a reason not to do it; but almost all of them can be overcome. Our article on 12 common excuses not to travel explores the most common barriers and how to get past them. These are the top ones:
Surely I can’t afford it?
Money is the number one barrier that stops people from travelling. Round-the-world trips can be very expensive, and it can take years to save for one. Lisa and I saved for nearly five years for our travel career break.
Even if you are in a position to afford your dream long-term trip, it might not be your top priority. Buying a house might seem like a more sensible investment, or having a big wedding the thing to do. But there will always be time for these things later – and it might be sooner than you think. If you put travel off forever, it’ll never happen.
What’s more, travel is more affordable than it has ever been. With a little savvy planning, round-the-world trips can be done on very little money. You can volunteer or work as you go, stay in house-sits and Couchsurf, make the most of free activities, cook your own food. You can hitchhike, camp and cycle.
As Tomislav Perko says in his TED talk on how to travel the world with almost no money: “You don’t have to be brave to travel. You just need a little bit of courage to start.”
Later in this guide we lay out some of the options and tools for budget travel.
But I’m too old for travel, right?
Wrong! Age is never a good reason not to travel. When my grandmother was in her late 80s, she went to see the Canadian Rockies – a trip she had dreamed about doing her whole life.
For some people, it’s more a concern that the travel community is young, and they won’t be able to fit in. In reality, the demographics of backpackers are changing fast, and people of all generations are travelling more – it’s not just the gap year crowd any more.
Sure, there might be times when you feel a bit old in a bar. But in our experience, it’s rarely difficult to meet people of a similar age, or who you can connect with. And with more people travelling at various stages of life, the travel industry is becoming better equipped to cater for it. For example, hostels are now much friendlier towards older travellers than they used to be.
There are many benefits to travelling when you’re a bit older. It’s more likely you will be financing the trip yourself, and so you will appreciate it more, having earned it. With more life experience, you will have a better idea of what you want to get out of it, and what you enjoy. And the chances are you will have a bit more financial freedom to do the things you want.
It’s too difficult with children…
Travelling as a family certainly brings some extra challenges. I can’t speak from personal experience on this, but I know several people who have taken travel career breaks with kids, and they all have one thing in common: they say it’s the best thing they’ve ever done.
If you are a parent, travel can provide a wonderful means of spending more time with your children. At the same time, the experience of travelling at a young age gives your kids a one-of-a-kind education that is simply not possible inside a four-walled classroom.
Travel helps children to become more curious, adaptable, expressive and sociable. It enables them to learn about different cultures and understand them. And it can also develop their practical knowledge on things like geography, languages, architecture and history.
There are many resources out there to help travelling families. This guide by YTravel covers many of them, from homeschooling to destination advice and everything in between. For more inspiration on this, check out our interviews with Sharonika Camplin and the Marmalade Tour family about their travel career breaks with children.
So, for every excuse not to travel you can think of – there are hundreds of people out there who have overcome the same barrier. Once you make the decision to just go ahead and do it, everything else will fall into place.
5. Ideas for your travel career break
A travel career break is a unique opportunity to try something new in life, whether it’s learning, developing or discovering. But how will you use the time? Here are some ideas to get you started.
Cross the big ones off your bucket list
Many people use the opportunity of a career break to simply travel as far and wide as possible, and visit the places they’ve always dreamed about.
Maybe you’ve always wanted to take a west-coast road trip from Canada to Mexico, go island-hopping in Southeast Asia or witness the incredible wildlife in Southern Africa. Or perhaps there are some big one-off experiences you want to try. For me and Lisa, that was hiking the Inca Trail in Peru and cruising Milford Sound in New Zealand.
Whatever your dream destination or adventure, a travel sabbatical is your chance to do it. Take a look at our top career break travel ideas to find some inspiration.
Discover a new passion
Why not devote some of your travel career break to exploring some new interests you’ve been curious about but never tried? It could be the start of a new hobby in life, or a passion that steers you onto a different career path. Our travel career break helped me and Lisa to discover three new passions: hiking, scuba diving and wine tasting. These are now all a big part of our life, and have brought us so much joy and fulfilment.
Have you ever considered taking up art? Bring a sketchbook and paint pictures of your travels. How about writing a book? It’s the perfect opportunity. We’ve met people on travel sabbaticals learning to dance the tango, taking sommelier qualifications, becoming diving masters, studying the history of a country – there are so many directions you can choose.
You could pick a couple of ‘passion ideas’ and use them to shape your travel itinerary. For example, a hiking and wine adventure could take you to the Argentina wine route and Andes mountain trails, Napa Valley and the Sierra Nevada, the European Alps and rolling hills of Italy, or the Fjordlands and vineyards of New Zealand.
Discovering a new passion is not only hugely rewarding in itself, but it also helps to remove you mentally from the world you know at home; to escape the routine.
Volunteer for a great cause
You could choose to use your career break to make a difference by volunteering abroad. This can help you to develop new skills and experience living in a different environment, while supporting a cause that is close to your heart.
I’ve met people of all ages who have used their travel sabbaticals to volunteer for children’s charities in Nepal, orphanages in Cambodia, disaster relief in Haiti, wildlife conservation centres in South Africa, schools in Sierra Leone, coral reef protection schemes in Thailand, and many more. In each and every case, they have come away with a thoroughly enriching and worthwhile experience.
Volunteering gives you the chance to work directly for a cause you support, and bring real change to people’s lives. The experience can also have major benefits for your career. It enables you to improve your cultural competency, work with a variety of people from different backgrounds and maybe find a new calling in life. You will also emerge with extra experience on your resume that can give you the edge when applying for future roles.
House-sit your way around the world
House-sitting is a brilliant way to travel on a low budget while getting to know places in more depth. Using a service like TrustedHousesitters, you can find placements to look after people’s homes and pets in destinations all over the world.
Travelling through house-sits keeps your accommodation costs down, and can give you time and space to work on other things. For example, you could combine it with taking a remote learning course, or work on building a new business of your own.
Read our interview with Sarah Blinco and Cooper Dawson, who took a six-month break from work to travel on a house-sitting sabbatical. This has enabled them to build their own businesses away from the stress of the nine-to-fives, while spending quality time in different places around Europe.
Learn a language
A travel career break offers two things that are invaluable when it comes to learning a language: time to study, and the chance to practice with native speakers.
With the freedom to plan your travel itinerary, another benefit is that you can choose places that offer affordable language classes. For example, in Sucre, Bolivia, Spanish lessons come as cheap as 5 US dollars per hour. It’s also a pretty cool place to travel, as we found out! A few months in South America can do wonders for your Spanish skills.
Maybe you want to learn Mandarin in China, Portuguese in Brazil, French in North Africa, German in Central Europe… the choice is completely yours.
Work on your weaknesses
Travel is not only an opportunity to learn new skills, but also to develop existing ones. The exposure to different cultures and environments will challenge you in ways that a regular nine-to-five can’t.
Perhaps you want to use your career break to improve your networking or communication skills, or maybe you struggle with creativity or confidence. These are just some of the development needs that travel can help to address.
Speak with your manager and colleagues at work to seek feedback and gain an understanding of your strengths and weaknesses. This will help to identify where there are areas for improvement.
6. Approaching work about sabbatical leave
Once you’ve decided on taking a career break to travel, approaching work about it can be quite nerve-wracking. It’s a potentially difficult conversation, and also tough to know how best to present your case – or even when to bring it up in the first place. Our guide to how to ask for a sabbatical at work presents six easy steps to help you through the process.
Although me and Lisa both had different outcomes (she was awarded a sabbatical contract and I wasn’t), we both had very positive experiences with our employers, and it was nowhere near as difficult as we feared. Most employers will at least be happy to have a conversation about it. So the first thing is not to worry.
The best way to get started is to do your homework. Does your employer have a sabbatical policy? If so, you will just need to follow your organisation’s application process. Perhaps there is no policy, but there is a precedent set by someone being allowed a sabbatical before – this would indicate that your employer is open to the idea.
If there is no policy and no precedent, then it’s a good idea to do some groundwork before you open the conversation. Building a case around value will give you the best chance of being successful.
How could a sabbatical benefit your employer?
This is the most important question during your preparations. If you can show your employer that a sabbatical could be positive for business, they are far more likely to allow it. There is a growing body of evidence showing how sabbaticals benefit organisations, and that’s why more workplaces are offering them.
Here are some of the highlights you can point to:
- A career break will make you a better, more rounded employee. You will return refreshed, recharged and possibly with some new and relevant skills.
- After space to reflect, it’s also likely you will return with fresh ideas to bring to your role and help grow the business.
- A sabbatical arrangement could give the chance for someone else to take on new responsibilities in your absence and show what they can do. It’s an opportunity for junior staff to grow in their roles.
- Companies that offer employee perks like sabbaticals are far more likely to retain staff over time.
What is your value to the organisation?
Similar to asking for a promotion or pay rise, demonstrating your value to the organisation is vital when negotiating a sabbatical. If your contribution is valued highly, your employer is more likely to be open to it.
Be communicative at work. When you achieve results, make sure it is visible. This shouldn’t just be something you do in a meeting with your manager – make a regular effort to communicate your effectiveness as an employee. It doesn’t have to be in a pushy way. Chip in during meetings, be willing to help, respond to emails and share successes. It all helps.
Do what you can to minimise negative impacts
If you tell your employer you are planning a year-long round-the-world trip and will be leaving in two weeks’ time, they probably won’t be too pleased, and even less willing to keep your job open. The timing of the initial conversation is very important. If you allow enough time for your organisation to prepare and make alternative arrangements, it shows that you care and will help your case.
Both Lisa and I approached our workplaces about a year before our trip. This wasn’t so early that our employers might feel they couldn’t plan long-term, but allowed plenty of time for arrangements to be made.
Think about anything else you can do to mitigate any potential negative effects of a sabbatical. Offer to help however you can in the process of arranging cover and handover. You could even time your trip in a way that has the least impact on the organisation.
Get an agreement in writing
Finally, if you are successful in being awarded sabbatical leave, make sure you have an agreement in writing. This will make the arrangements clear, and will cover you if anything goes wrong. For Lisa, this was a simple letter stating her departure and return date. However, you could also consider covering other bases, such as what happens if you want to return early or extend your leave.
Throughout this whole process you might learn things about your employer that could bolster your commitment to work for them, or indeed the opposite. At the end of the day, always remember that a job is a job, and everyone is replaceable. If you need to quit in order to take a career break, you will always be able to find another job later.
7. Deciding when to take your travel sabbatical
Getting the timing right for your travel career break can be tricky. There will always be something that might get in the way; always an excuse not to do it.
In reality, there will be no perfect time. There will always be another wedding, big birthday, promotion opportunity at work. If you need to miss out on a big occasion, people who love you will understand.
On the reverse side of the coin, your travel itinerary will also have an effect on your timing. What are the best seasons to visit your chosen destinations? Are there any big celebrations or national festivals you want to include?
And then there is money – how long will you need to save the amount you need for your trip?
All of this is a careful balancing act. In the following sections we look at some of these issues in a bit more depth. But in essence, you need to weigh up the variables, find a timing that works best for your circumstances, and commit to it. In our experience, once you have fixed the dates, everything else falls into place around it.
8. How much will a round-the-world trip cost?
The cost of a travel career break can differ wildly depending on several factors. There is no simple answer to this question. In our article on how much it costs to travel the world, we reveal what we spent on our trip, explore some of the principles of travel budgeting, and present some tools and resources for planning and managing your career break budget.
These are the variables that will have the biggest influence on your trip costs:
- Destination choices: what are the average prices in the places you want to visit? Budget Your Trip is a great tool for determining this. Your travel route will have the biggest impact on costs. For example, you could travel reasonably in Southeast Asia for a year with $6,000, but in Australia or Western Europe it would be difficult to spend less than $20,000.
- Travel style: what level of accommodation and transport will you be using? If you’re happy to stay in hostels, or go for free options like camping or Couchsurfing, you can expect to spend far less than if you only stay in hotels. And the same with public transport and taxis. A willingness to embrace budget options will make a huge difference to your overall costs.
- Seasonality: when will you be visiting each destination? Prices can vary greatly between peak season and off season.
Mixing things up worked really well for me and Lisa. We focused our higher spending on experiences such as activities and good food, and compromised on accommodation and transport. Again, it’s a matter of balancing and finding a style that works for you.
Resources for travelling on a budget
If finances are really tight, it still doesn’t need to be a barrier to travelling. As I’ve outlined above, there are many ways to travel cheaply or even freely, and an expanding universe of resources to help with it. The table below compiles some of the best resources for budget travel.
|Budget planning and management||TravelSpend – an app you can use to track your travel expenses and monitor your budget
Xe.com – check the latest currency exchange rates
Travelex travel budget calculator – tool to get a quick estimate of your travel budget
|Transport||Rentalcars.com – search and compare the best prices for car rentals
Busbud – find and compare the best prices for bus journeys
Skyscanner – find and compare the best prices for flights
Uber – find low-cost taxi rides nearby
Driiveme – find one-way car rentals for €1 / £1 in Europe
|Accommodation||Booking.com – find and compare accommodation options anywhere in the world
Hostelworld – find and compare hostels anywhere in the world
Couchsurfing – find local hosts who can spare a room in their home for free
TrustedHousesitters – find house-sitting and pet-sitting placements for free accommodation all over the world
Campspace – find small campsites on private land around the world
|Entertainment||GetYourGuide – find, compare and book tours anywhere in the world, with best price guarantee and free cancellation
Kibii – use this app to find nearby things to do in places around the world
Wikiloc – find information about hiking trail routes anywhere in the world
9. Creating a savings plan that works for you
By now, you should have a good idea of a ballpark travel budget, and the timings for your trip. That gives you the basic ingredients to get started with saving for it.
Our essential guide to saving for a travel career break breaks everything down into a manageable strategy. We advocate an incremental approach, starting small by saving whatever you can, and gradually increasing the amounts as you become more comfortable.
If you don’t already have a savings account, open one as soon as you can. This will help manage your finances, and will also boost your savings with interest. The interest we built up while saving was enough to cover our travel insurance for the whole trip. Take some time to research the best current options for savings accounts. Talk to your existing bank too – they might offer a better rate for existing customers.
We also recommend getting a prepaid money card like Revolut. It’s a great tool for managing your money, and you can create saving pots that set aside the change when you buy things. You’ll be amazed how quickly this can build up.
It’s useful to keep a spreadsheet to manage your monthly incomings and outgoings, and plan your savings. You can download our Monthly budget for travel savings template to get started.
Travel saving tips
Once you get going with saving, you might be surprised how quickly you adjust. By using some simple tricks and strategies, you can help your savings along while still allowing yourself an enjoyable lifestyle. Here are some steps you can take:
- Review your bank statements. Go through your outgoings with a fine tooth comb and see if there is anything unnecessary you can eliminate.
- Sell stuff you don’t need. Have a good look through all your belongings. Consider selling anything that’s surplus to requirements; you’ll probably end up throwing it away anyhow before you set off on your trip.
- Plan your weekly meals. Creating meal plans in advance really helps to manage your food spending and avoid waste. Cooking meals in bulk and portioning them into the freezer will save a lot of money too.
- Look out for deals, discounts and free stuff. You will still want to allow yourself the occasional treat. Use sites like Groupon to find offers on things to do in your area, and make the most of any free activities and events.
- Get creative when it comes to the festive season and celebrations. Our article on how to keep up savings during the festive season explores some ideas.
Ultimately, when times get tough, just remember why you are doing this. Saving is not easy, but keep reminding yourself of the goal at the end of it. It will be worth it – we promise you!
10. Planning your travel itinerary
This is without doubt the most fun part of preparing for a career break. It’s time to plan your route! We’ve already covered some of the bases that will help to shape your itinerary, such as budget, timing and some general career break ideas. Now you can start bringing this together into a plan.
Here are some quick tips and tools you can use for travel planning:
- Use visual platforms for inspiration. Instagram and Google Images are really useful for generating ideas on things to do and places to go.
- Pinterest is your friend. The social search engine is a great tool for discovering ideas and organising them neatly into boards.
- Follow some travel blogs and podcasts. They’re a great source of inspiration and practical advice, directly from people who have been there and done it.
- Speak to people who have travelled. Seek advice from people with travel experience. Mine and Lisa’s trip was inspired by the route my best friend and his partner took on their career break.
- Read the reviews. When it comes to booking activities, accommodation and places to eat, look up user reviews on platforms like TripAdvisor and Google. Careful to read between the lines, though – you will soon learn to recognise helpful advice and what to look out for.
While it might be tempting to go ahead and plan your trip right down to each day, you might regret it later. It’s much better to plan loosely and allow flexibility to make changes as you go.
And remember, you don’t need to do absolutely everything. There will be plenty more opportunities to travel again. Don’t sweat it if you need to miss out on a few things. If you find that you’re missing something, you can always pick it up as you go.
11. Packing for long-term travel
When setting off on a long-term trip, you will be about to carry your entire life in a backpack for months on end. Deciding what to pack can be quite savage, especially if you haven’t travelled extensively before. Our long-term travel packing list covers all the considerations for both men and women.
Before you start buying things, think carefully about what will be appropriate for the places you are going. Do some research into the climates and plan accordingly. You will also need to consider what you will need for any particular activities you are planning, such as hiking or diving.
These are the core essentials for long-term travel:
- Backpack. This will effectively be your home and is your single most important piece of travel gear. Check out our guide to the best travel backpacks for the latest options.
- Hiking boots. Even if you don’t plan any hiking, durable walking boots are an absolute necessity for long-term trips. See our guide to the best hiking boots for travel.
- Packing cubes. The most useful travel accessory you will ever buy. They will help you to organise everything in your backpack and make optimal use of space.
- Mini first aid kit. You never know when you might need it.
- Travel documentation. Whatever you do, don’t leave home without your passport, visas, vaccination certificates, driving license, and anything else you may need to travel.
As a general rule: bring as little as you can. It’s likely you will pack too much to begin with. You will soon get used to living with little, and you will be grateful for having a lighter weight to carry.
12. What to do with your stuff before you leave
As your departure date approaches, one of the biggest pre-travel tasks is sorting what to with all your stuff. You might be surprised by quite how much you actually have. We were taken aback by the volume of junk in our flat! There are many options available for getting rid or storing it away. Our complete guide to what to do with your stuff before long-term travel covers it in detail.
This is your chance to really have a clear-out. Don’t hold back – the chances are you will get rid of even more stuff when you return home. That’s what we did. There are many ways to offload your stuff: you can sell it online or at a local community sale, give it away to friends and family, give it away on Freecycle, donate to charity – and if all else fails, throw it away.
Nevertheless, you will still probably have plenty of things left that need to be stored away. There are two main options for doing this:
- See if any friends or family have some spare loft space for you to use. If anyone can accommodate, this will avoid storage costs – we were lucky to have a supportive network of people who helped us out.
- Put your stuff into storage. Services like Safestore in the UK, Life Storage in the USA and National Storage in Australia offer spaces for long-term travel storage.
When packing your things away, it’s very useful to keep a record of what’s in each box, labelling it and recording it in a spreadsheet. It sounds like a lot of effort, but it will save you a lot of hassle when you get back and you need to find things quickly.
13. Before you set off: nailing the pre-travel admin
Leaving home for a long-term trip involves quite a lot of preparation and admin. Don’t be overwhelmed – if you are well organised then it needn’t be stressful. Our ultimate long-term travel checklist details everything you need to consider before setting off, with a timeline covering all stages from 12+ months out through to your departure day.
Sorting your living arrangements
This is one of the biggest tasks before taking a travel career break, although the requirements will depend on your circumstances. If you own a property then you will need to make arrangements for it to be let out and looked after in your absence. That will probably involve working with a local estate agent.
If you’re renting, you will just need to give the required notice before moving out. However, it’s best to have a permanent address while you’re away for receiving mail. We set ours at Lisa’s parents’ address.
Before you leave, change your address accordingly on all of your accounts, and arrange for your mail to be forwarded. If you find you need to re-order anything like bank cards or driving licenses while you’re away, it will be a whole lot easier if you have a permanent address where a friend or family member can send it out to you.
Whether or not your job is being kept open, it’s best to help as much as possible in making a smooth exit. Do whatever you can to hand over your responsibilities in a way that will minimise stress to your colleagues. Goodwill may keep the door open for later work opportunities, and it’s just the right thing to do.
Also remember to update your resume/CV, and make sure you have copies of any work examples or useful documents that you may need for job hunt preparations later.
If you are travelling to any exotic places, then you will probably need some vaccinations and maybe malaria tablets too. It can take a while to get these arranged and go through the required courses. Make an appointment with your doctor at least six months before your trip for a consultation.
Check if any of the countries you are visiting require vaccination documentation for entry, and make sure you have it with you.
Recording your memories
Think about how you may want to keep a record of your travels. It could simply be through taking lots of pictures, or maybe you want to keep a journal or set up a blog.
If you don’t already have one, consider investing in a decent camera. We use a Nikon D5600, which takes beautiful snaps and is great for both beginners and more advanced photographers. Buy a few SD cards to make sure you have plenty of storage, and invest in an online storage facility such as Amazon Photos on Prime for regular backup.
A blog is easy to set up. If you’re interested in monetising it to make some extra cash for your travels, take a look at Adventure In You’s Blogging Fast Lane course. They offer some free training to begin with, and the full course covers the basics right through to building a thriving business.
14. Getting ready to manage your travel money
Managing your finances while travelling is one of the many learning curves of a travel career break. There’s a lot you can do before you set off to make life easier on the road when it comes to money. Our guide to how to manage money when travelling covers the preparations in detail and provides general tips, including practicalities like using ATMs overseas, tracking on the go and staying safe.
A digital bank account or prepaid money card like Revolut or Monzo is a great way to manage your funds abroad. They offer free withdrawals up to a certain amount and are easy to top up at any time via a mobile app, which also comes with features like savings pots, expenditure tracking and split bills. It’s also well worth getting a backup credit card to use for emergencies.
Let your bank know your plans before you leave. If you don’t, you may get a surprise when your card is blocked the moment you try to use it overseas. At the same time, make sure your account is set up for online banking so you can access it easily.
Finally on money – read our guide to the hidden costs of travel, which will help you plan and avoid any unnecessary expenditure.
15. Protecting yourself and staying safe
As long as you are sensible, travel is generally very safe – it’s a rare occurrence for backpackers to come to any harm. For every bad story you see on the news, there are millions of travellers who get by just fine. But of course there are some risks involved.
For long-term trips it is wise to invest in travel insurance. This will give you peace of mind that if something goes wrong, such as injury, illness or theft, you will be protected for the financial damage.
Our guide to career break travel insurance details the top considerations when looking for a policy. We recommend World Nomads for insuring long-term trips – they facilitate a worldwide community of travellers, offer reliable policies and provide excellent customer service. You can get started using the quote tool below.
More ways to protect yourself
The three pillars of travel safety are research, vigilance and common sense. Before you visit a new destination, check the current travel advice and read up on any common scams, using resources like travelscams.org. Always be careful to be aware of your surroundings, and don’t wander into any unfamiliar neighbourhoods without first asking locals whether it’s safe. By following these basic principles, you shouldn’t have any problems.
Make scans of all your important documents before you go and save them on the cloud. It’s a good idea to scan your passport and bring a photocopy with you – this could be invaluable if you lose your main copy.
When you’re on the road, try and separate your valuables a bit. At the very least, keep your emergency credit card apart from the rest of your money and cards. When we had the misfortune to lose our daypacks in a distraction theft – and our passports, money, cards and valuables inside them – having a backup credit card and photocopied passports saved our trip.
16. Making the most of the experience
Once you are off on your way, there’s nothing left but to enjoy it. The trip will pass quicker than you think; at the beginning it may feel like you have an ocean of time ahead of you, but you will be surprised how fast it goes. Remember to savour the moments, and always keep in mind why you’re doing it.
Travel is not always a smooth ride. The pictures you see on Instagram don’t tell the whole story. There will be many great times and incredible highs, but there will be difficult moments too. Some days will be stressful. But you are the master of your journey, which means you are free to slow down, take stock and reflect whenever you need to. Make the most of that.
17. What happens when you get back home?
The arrival home after a travel career break is when the next stage of your life begins. It is a time of mixed emotions; no doubt a tinge of sadness that the trip has come to an end, but also excitement for the opportunities that lie ahead. And of course, it’s fantastic to see everyone again at home.
Everybody’s circumstances will be different, but for most it is a challenging time to navigate, at least to begin with. Readjusting takes time. Life will probably not be the same as when you left, but in a good way – you will have new ideas about how you want to shape your future.
Our survival guide to returning home after a travel career break walks through the various stages of the big homecoming, from the preparations as your flight home approaches, to the practicalities of the days, weeks and months afterwards.
Enjoy the moment
There are many reasons to be positive on the day you return home. You will probably be exhausted, and so the comfort of a familiar environment will be a welcoming feeling. There’s no better way to settle back in than by spending the first few days enjoying the company of your loved ones and indulging in plenty of home comforts.
Give yourself some space
There’s a lot to do after you return home from long-term travel. The prospect of sorting your finances, living arrangements, work situation, belongings, and generally rebuilding a life at home can seem overwhelming at first. However, if you build everything into a manageable plan of action and take it at a steady pace, it’s not really so bad at all.
We were surprised at how quickly things fell back into place. Within a few weeks we had moved into a new flat, Lisa had a fab new job and we were building our own new business.
At the same time, we made changes to our lifestyle as a result of our travel experiences. We stressed less over the little things, and made a conscious effort to explore our home city in a way we hadn’t before. Many career gappers tell us similar stories about their lives after travel.
Look towards life’s next big adventure
Once you are settled in at home again, you can begin thinking about the future and what the next big adventure will be. This could be another travel career break, but it doesn’t have to be – you might want to buy a house, have kids, embrace a new career, move somewhere different.
The choice is yours. But whatever your next life goal is, the experience of a travel career break should give you the skills and mindset to make it happen. It’s time to go get it.
We would love to hear your feedback on our ultimate guide to taking a travel career break. Please feel free to get in touch or leave a comment below.
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